Steve Jobs and openness

The windows in the new Apple headquarters will not open. Malcolm Gladwell explains why in his New Yorker article. He quotes Walter Isaacson’s new biography of Steve Jobs.

The architects wanted the windows to open. Jobs said no. He “had never liked the idea of people being able to open things. ‘That would just allow people to screw things up.’ ”

Related post: Inside Steve Job’s brain

Anti-antitrust

Rumor has it that “a federal antitrust probe of Apple is days away” according to PCWorld. I do not want to see this. Even though I criticized Steve Jobs’ statements about Flash in my previous post, it’s the hypocrisy I find most offensive. I would respect Jobs if he said

Hey, it’s my platform. I can do whatever I want with it. If you don’t like it, buy someone else’s stuff. Or better yet, go make your own platform.

That might make me want go out and buy an iPad.

However, such a statement may not hold water legally. No, you can’t do whatever you want with your own platform. Perhaps you should be able to, but that’s not the law. Hank Williams makes an interesting argument this morning that Apple may guilty of illegal restraint of trade through their use of warranties.

I’m suspicious of antitrust cases. They are often a way for competitors to win in court what they were unable to win in the marketplace. I don’t want to see Apple go through the antitrust wringer just because Microsoft had to. On the other hand, given the Microsoft precedent, it would be almost impossible to overlook Apple. The discussion of whether Microsoft should have included its web browser as part of the operating system seems absolutely trivial compared to the control Apple exerts over its devices.

Related posts:

Tragedy of the anti-commons
Apple and multi-platform apps
Inside Steve Jobs’ brain

Apple and multi-platform apps

Steve Jobs has said developers won’t be allowed to write multi-platform apps for Apple devices. Software for the iPad, iPod, or iPhone has to be written specifically for those devices because developers are incapable porting software worthy of running on an Apple device.

I doubt Steve Jobs is sincere in the reasons he gives for blocking cross-platform applications. It seems more plausible that he simply wants to keep certain players (e.g. Adobe) off his devices. But let’s take his reasons at face value for the remainder of this post.

Apple is judging one piece of software by the existence of other software. Here’s an application X. It runs on the iPhone. Is it kosher? Well, that depends on whether another application Y exists that has similar functionality but runs on a different operating system! Application X is not being judged on its own merits. It’s as if there were some sort of quantum entanglement between applications X and Y. Like two particles separated at birth, they remain connected to each other in some spooky way.

Imagine applying for a job at Apple. You made a good impression in the interview, but before they make you a job offer, they have one more question: Do you have a sister who works for Adobe? They cannot hire you based on your credentials alone. They have to know first whether you have a sibling who works for a competitor.

This post defends Apple as follows:

Multiplatform applications are bad.

They look alien. They are not stable. Their main code is not native to the OS they are running. They cause confusion to some users and they can destabilize the whole OS.

I partially agree. I would say that multi-platform applications are often bad. They often look alien and are not stable.Years ago I could immediately spot an application were written in Java. (Since that time things have improved.) I don’t mind whether my software is written in Java, I only mind if I can tell it’s written in Java.

If Steve Jobs’ only concern were protecting the experience of his customers, he should ban software that acts like a port from another operating system, i.e. software that looks alien or is unstable, regardless of whether it runs on another platform. What matters is the quality of the software, not the existence of some sibling application.

Apple are evil?

Mike Croucher wrote a post the other day explaining why he’s going to buy an iPad. He said that one of the objections to the iPad he’d heard was

Apple are evil because they take away control of how we use their devices.

I teased Mike that I would never say “Apple are evil.” On this side of the Atlantic we’d say “Apple is evil.” But in the UK it is accepted usage to say “Apple are evil.”

“Apple” is a collective noun when used to refer to Apple Inc. British English treats collective nouns as plural, but American English treats them as singular. Although the British usage sounds odd to my American ears, it makes sense just as much sense as the American convention. You could argue for plural verbs because corporations are made of individual people, or you could argue for singular verbs because the corporations act as a single entity. See Grammar Girl’s tip on collective nouns for more background.

By the way, I don’t believe Apple is evil. They’re just a company, no more or less virtuous than most other companies.

Apple posts:

I am not an operating system
Inside Steve Job’s brain
Protestant PCs, Catholic Macs

Grammar posts:

Important because it’s unimportant
English grammar
Finding grammatical errors in software

Apple Mac turns 25 today

The Mac came out 25 years ago today. Here’s the article. Hat tip @divbyzero.

I sold Macs for a little while. I worked at the UT computer store one summer. At the time, that store was the biggest distributor of Macs in the country.

I’ve never owned a Mac. I think it would be great fun, but it’s hard for me to justify the expense. If someone wanted to give me a Mac, I’d start blogging about Mac stuff. :-)

I am not an operating system

I thought Apple’s I’m a Mac ad campaign was amusing, but I’m not impressed with Microsoft’s belated I’m a PC response. When Apple claimed that cool people use Macs, it was lame to respond that some PC users are cool too.

PC users don’t identify with their operating system the way Mac users do. PC users don’t put Windows logos on cars, much less on their bodies, for example. (Maybe some do, but they’re less common.)

This was inevitable, and it has little to do with Apple and Microsoft per se. In any industry, when one vendor has a 95% market share, they’re forced into a position being all things to all people and making a lot of people moderately happy, or at least not unhappy. And when another vendor has a 5% market share, they have to make that 5% very happy. The minority vendor can be hip and scrappy; the majority vendor cannot.

Maybe a better response to “I’m a Mac” would have been “I’m not an operating system,” poking fun at people who identify strongly with their computer.

Inside Steve Jobs' brain

Last week I read Inside Drucker’s Brain and this week I’m reading Inside Steve’s Brain. The two books are written by different authors about very different men. But one theme that both books have in common is an appreciation for killing projects, even moderately successful projects, in order to focus on even more important projects.

So far, the thing I’ve found most impressive is how Steve Jobs dramatically reduced Apple’s product offerings in his plan to turn around the company.

When Jobs took over, Apple sold about forty different products … The lineup of computers was particularly baffling. There were several major lines … each with a dozen different models. But there was little to distinguish between the models except for their confusing product names.

The book goes on to describe Steve Job’s response.

Jobs drew a very simple two-by-two grid on the whiteboard. Across the top he wrote “Consumer” and “Professional,” and down the side, “Portable” and “Desktop.” Here was Apple’s new product strategy. Just four machines …

Sometimes I feel like I need to do something like that in my personal life, cutting my number of projects down by an order of magnitude.

I’m curious what the rest of the book holds. As I write this, most of the book’s reviews on Amazon are positive, four stars out of five on average. There’s only a single one-star review, but it’s worth considering. In a nutshell, the critic says the book is poorly written and contains little new material. He may be right. I’ll grant that the book isn’t the best prose I’ve ever read. But it doesn’t matter to me whether it’s original; I don’t know much about Steve Jobs, so the book’s content is new to me.

Protestant PCs, Catholic Macs

Here’s a post that’s sure to be controversial. Not only am I bringing up religion, I’m comparing Macs and PCs.

I heard someone refer to an article saying Macs are Catholic and PCs are Protestant. I haven’t seen the article in question, so I can only imagine what the analogy it had in mind. I doubt that Catholics are more likely to buy Macs than Protestants are, though I suppose that’s possible. I imagine the analogy has to do with centralized authority. There is one vendor for Mac hardware and untold numbers of vendors for PC hardware.  Also, Steve Jobs makes a more plausible Pope-figure than Bill Gates.

The analogy may also have to do with taste. Although I am a Protestant, I’m willing to concede that Catholic churches seem to have better taste in architecture and music. And although I am a PC user, I’ll admit that Apple generally has better taste than Microsoft.

Update: See link to an article by Umberto Eco that Sandra kindly provided in the comments.

Introduction to Mac for Windows developers

Here are a couple podcasts introducing Windows developers to software development on the Macintosh.

Scott Hanselman: What’s it like for Mac Developers, an nterview with Steven Frank

.NET Rocks: Miguel de Icaza and Geoff Norton on Mono, mostly about .NET development on the Mac

Also, there are a lot of Mac-related talks on the GeekCruise podcast. The talks from January 2007 were directed at a general audience new to the Mac.

Hanselman’s podcast talks about some of the cultural difference between Microsoft and Apple customers. For example, Mac users update their OS more often and complain less about OS changes that break software.